11 July 2024

Thailand should allow other ASEAN countries, especially Indonesia, to help in its efforts to end violence in southern Thailand, while reconsidering Malaysia’s current role as the peace dialogue facilitator, according to a key leader of one of the political parties in the coalition being formed by Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat.

Kannavee Suebsueng, secretary general of the Pentham (Fair) Party, which advocates a comprehensive approach in solving conflicts in the three southernmost provinces, said Malaysia has a conflict of interest that raises questions about its role in facilitating the peace process.

Resolving the conflicts in southern Thailand is one of the items in the MoU, signed by the eight political parties in the Pita coalition. Kannavee admitted that the language in the MoU was toned down, to make it more acceptable to the coalition partners.

While the MoU merely calls for the missions of agencies and laws related to security to be reviewed, Kannavee insists that, eventually, such security agencies as the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) and the Southern Border Provincial Administrative Center (SBPAC) will have to be dismantled.

“These two particular agencies don’t serve any purpose in solving problems in the south,” Kannavee told Thai PBS World in a recent interview. The two agencies have been at the forefront in maintaining peace and order in the region.

Kannavee, a well-known human rights campaigner, worked in the National Security Council (NSC) before becoming a field officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and has served in such conflict zones as Sudan, Chad, Uganda and Myanmar.

He said his years of field experience have had a lot of influence on his political thinking and how he views the situation in the south.

Kannavee said future peace dialogue should be held in Thailand and not outside the country, as it would be more open to other stake-holders and participants from civil society and local communities. “Participants in the current form of peace dialogue are people with weapons.  Ordinary people affected by the violence are excluded,” he said, referring to the peace talks facilitated by Malaysia and attended by representatives of Thailand’s security apparatus and BRN armed separatist group.

Malaysia has been facilitating the peace dialogue since 2013, during the Yingluck government. The last round of talks was held in Kuala Lumpur in March this year. Acting as the facilitator was Gen Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, a former commander of the Malaysian armed forces, who expressed confidence after the talks that the two sides were committed to bringing about peace to the region.

“I believe we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Gen Zulkifli told Thai PBS World, in an interview during his visit to southern Thailand following the peace talks.

Kannavee, however, cast doubt on the prospect of peace being achieved through the process. “We have been hearing for years that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but nothing has come out of it,” he said.

Kannavee, who made resolving conflicts in the south a cornerstone of his party’s election campaign platform, said since Malaysia shares a border with Thailand there could be a conflict of interest in its role as a peace dialogue facilitator.

“Of course, we welcome Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s offer to help Thailand achieve peace in the region, but we don’t think Malaysia should be facilitating the peace dialogue,” he said.

Kannavee suggested that Thailand should consider inviting other countries in ASEAN, especially Indonesia, to help in the peace process. “Indonesia has experience in dealing with religious conflicts and peace-building,” he said.

“We need a new paradigm in dealing with situation in southern Thailand,” he said, suggesting that the Thai government should be open to new ideas and advice from outside the country.

“We should not be deterred by the fear of seeing the conflicts being internationalised,” he said.

He said peace in the south also means peace for the whole country. “If we can bring back peace to the south, we can hope to have peace for the country based on democratic values,” he said, referring to years of political polarisation.

He said his party’s peace plan is based on three pillars. “The first is to upgrade the peace-building process to the national level. We need to put it on the national agenda,” he said, pointing out that all attempts to resolve the conflicts so far were made through local security mechanisms.

The peace process advocated by Kannavee will involve a peace dialogue to be conducted in Thailand, with participants from the armed separatist groups provided with legal immunity as well as representatives of local communities and those affected by the years of violence.

“The second pillar is freedom of speech and assembly. People should be given space to express themselves freely, without being constrained by all the security-related laws,” he said.

Kannavee said the third pillar is related to reform of the system of governance in the region.

Kannavee dismissed concerns that his party’s approach to dealing with the south is too radical. “It’s not radical, it’s practical,” he said.

By Thepchai Yong